Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jeff Pearlman: Repeat offender

A few days after he called out the Pirates for sucking so hard and then sort of apologizing for the quarter-assed manner in which he did it, Jeff Pearlman, esteemed winner of Sports Illustrated's 2007 "Not Quite Fit For Print" Award, is at it again.

Initially, I was just going to debunk Jeff's argument, make fun of him a little and call it a day. And I still fully plan on doing that. But before we start the good old FJM-style funtiems, I want to make something perfectly clear: I don't think Jeff Pearlman believes one word of what he's written about the Pirates the last two weeks.

Columnists have big heads. They love writing things that provoke reactions, positive or negative. They don't care; they're in it for the attention. Jeff Pearlman has realized that the diehard Pirates fans of The Asylum are a fierce bunch, protective of their team through the thickest of thick, and he is capitalizing on that.

I don't think Jeff Pearlman has anything resembling an opinion on this issue -- or really any issue for that matter -- if there's no hope of some kind of potential for ego-strokery. This guy wrote a piece that got him a ton of hate mail, quasi-apologized for it, and has now written ostensibly the same piece again. Contrary to whatever Jeff might write on his blog about the hate mail hurting his feelings, don't be fooled. He loves every minute of it. The only differences between Jeff Pearlman and, say, Murray Chass, are about 60 years and a few million dollars. Also, while old Uncle Murray does love the attention, his superiority complex precludes him from basing his self-worth on what people write in response to his columns. Most of the self-indulgent, navel-gazing crap you'll find on JeffPearlman.com suggests Jeff might not quite operate this way.

Am I playing right into Jeffrey's hands by giving him the attention he craves? Absolutely. But I don't care because I'm not his parent or his therapist. Now, onto the rich, meaty baseball side.

On July 26, 2008 the Pirates traded Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees for Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Jose Tabata.

One year and 155 days later, Sports Illustrated.com's Jeff Pearlman, fresh off a literary effort he acknowledged as completely phoned-in, decided it was high time he weigh in with an opinion on the trade. As the old cliche goes, you can't accurately judge who got the better of a trade until either three years after the fact or whenever Jeff Pearlman decides to weigh in -- whichever comes first.

Based upon the staggering number of responses I’ve received to my most recent post about the Pirates, I’m thinking of re-naming jeffpearlman.com piratereport.com. Unfortunately, that’d decrease my readership (hanging strong at about 2,000 per day) to, oh, 150 clicks. Maybe 155 if the Pirates win two straight.

And we're off! Jeff comes out swinging again, this time with a thinly veiled attempt at boasting about his readership figures, which is the columnist equivalent of bragging about the size of your dick. For perspective, Deadspin, the grandfather of all sports blogs, averages about 23 million unique domestic clicks per month. In this analogy, Jeff is bragging about having a three-inch penis.

If you write sports in the 21st century, you accept that you’ll get hammered. And hammered. And hammered. When you’re right. When you’re wrong. When you’re off. When you’re on. Whenever.

But more often when you're just wrong, and almost always when you're just doing it to get people to pay attention to you.

All that being said, I want to make a point that I consider, without question, indisputable: Pittsburgh’s July 26, 2008 trade of Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees for Daniel McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf was absolutely, positively terrible. A horrible swap for the Pirates, sans debate.

Oy.

I'm going to let The Pearlman flesh out his argument a little before delving into the myriad of factors that make this the least-good column Jeff has written since last week.

The Pittsburgh loyalist—an odd breed who gets punched in the head repeatedly (by his loved one, no less) while screaming, “More! More! More!”—looks at this deal 1 1/2 years later and says, “Not bad.”

I don't think anyone looked at this deal and said, "not bad." I think even people in the Yankees organization were borderline bewildered at how much Brian Cashman gave up to get these two guys, and that was on day one.

To look merely through the lenses of hindsight, however, is an ignorant way to view a deal. In the summer of 2008, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte were hot properties.

Read that first sentence again:

To look merely through the lenses of hindsight, however, is an ignorant way to view a deal.

This is easily the most asinine thing anyone has ever written with regard to baseball.

Jeff Pearlman is straight-up suggesting that past performance is more important in evaluating the market for baseball players than is future performance. Perhaps this explains why he's hoping the Pirates will sign Nomar Garciaparra.

A. Neither man made an outlandish amount of money; B. Marte was a proven lefthanded reliever who was about to appear in at least 60 games for a seventh-straight season; C. Nady, while hardly Albert Pujols, is a 20-homer, 80 RBI type of hitter who can play multiple positions and is known as one of the game’s better clubhouse influences. If you were a contending team in 2008, you could use both guys. That’s why both the Mets and Yankees were interested; why the eyes of those covering the Major Leagues were, at last, focused upon Pittsburgh. They had players other teams craved, and they were willing to deal.

There's nothing outlandishly wrong here. Though I can't really speak to Xavier Nady's influence on a clubhouse, I've heard he does bring in cookie trays on Fridays, which is really great for morale. But in terms of factors that actually matter, The Pearlman is right. The Pirates had a couple of players coveted by other teams, and a minor league system totally bereft of talent. Two plus two equals trade those guys and start rebuilding your system.

So what did the Pirates receive for two craved medallions? Daniel McCutchen, who at best will be a fourth starter for a bad team. Jeff Karstens, a non-roster invitee for 2010 who will likely wind up in Triple A for somebody. Ross Ohlendorf, a No. 5 starter or long reliever for 90 percent of Major League teams (but, in Pittsburgh, a key component of the rotation). And, last but not least, the mighty Jose Tabata, a 21-year-old outfielder and the key to the deal for the Pirates.

Ross Ohlendorf can take his 800 math SAT score, his undergraduate degree from Princeton, his sabermetric-based thesis on the relative value of first-round signing bonuses, his breakout 2009 (3.92 ERA, 1.23 WHIP), his 95-mile-per-hour sinker and his unpaid internship at the United States Department of Agriculture and go straight to hell. He sucks. THE PEARLMAN HAS SPOKEN!

Ross Ohlendorf sucks so hard that he could never have pitched for a GOOD team like the Yankees. He lacks the talent. They're happy to have gotten rid of him. Good riddance to bad...wait...I'm being handed a note from FTC's research department...We have what appears to be a credible report of the Yankees inquiring about the availability of multiple Pirates pitchers, including Ross Ohlendorf, before re-acquiring Javier Vazquez.

I'm not going to argue that McCutchen and Karstens were crucial pickups. Karstens has fallen somewhere between alright and bad, and McCutchen doesn't have enough big league experience yet for anybody to make any kind of serious value judgement on him. What's important about these two guys is that they were young pitchers coming to a team that HAD ZERO YOUNG PITCHERS.

Tabata’s skills have been compared to those of Manny Ramirez, and he was Baseball America’s 12th best prospect in the Eastern League. But, of late, Tabata has been, well, mediocre. In 93 games split between Double A and Triple A last year, he hit a whopping five home runs, to go with 35 RBI and a .293 average. To suggest Tabata has fallen off the Top Prospect list is going too far. But in Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates have a can’t-miss slugger just waiting for a chance. Tabata can miss. An increasing number of people seem to think he will.

I don't know which baseball insiders Jeff Pearlman polled to come up with that sentiment, but clearly, New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner was not one of them. If you're feeling Pearlman-quality lazy, I'll save you the click. The previous link goes to an article whose title reads "Ohlendorf Making '08 Trade Look Like a Steal". It was penned back in September, after Ross had tossed eight shutout innings, including one in which he struck out the side on nine pitches. Cause, you know, he sucks. Fifth starter.

The pertinent quote, though, reads: "Once the Yankees’ top prospect, Tabata has hit .296 with five homers and a .360 on-base percentage at two levels this season. Just 21 years old, Tabata is starting to tap his potential."

So clearly, something has changed between September 6th and now that makes people think that Jose Tabata will not pan out. Well, the only baseball Tabata would have played between than and now would have been in the Arizona Fall League, so he clearly must have stunk up the joint or done to ruin his life land himself in federal prison.

Jose Tabata, 2009 Arizona Fall League: 28 games, 120 AB, .392/.448/.517

Okay, so Jeff Pearlman made all that up. But he did it with gusto! I won't deny that the lack of power is a slight concern, but Tabata is only 21 (supposedly), and power is the last thing to develop in hitters. All models and historical trends confirm this.

That’s why this trade irks me. The Pirates could have done better. The Pirates should have done better. And the under-performances of Nady and Marte change nothing.

It's nice to know Jeff rips because he just cares that much. Actually, the subsequent flopping of Nady and Marte makes this trade look even better, and the Pirates look even more right. This is what we talk about when we talk about selling high. Everything about Nady's 2008 season screamed outlier. He'd never played for so long without making a trip to the DL, and sure enough, he hasn't since. Marte's performance has slipped predictably with age, but there's also the idea that lefty specialists are overvalued in the market as a whole, and that's another point of organizational philosophy that we could have grand, well-informed Jamesian debates about from now to the next time Jeff Pearlman posts pictures of his knees on his website for you to enjoy, but that's another topic for another day.

It actually reminds me of the 1989 NFL Draft, when my New York Jets (I used to be a huge fan) used the No. 14 pick of the first round to select Jeff Lageman out of Virginia. The green-and-white clad fans rightly booed, and continued to boo throughout Lageman’s productive six years with the team.

Jets fans boo EVERY pick. This was not unique to Jeff Lageman.

This also has nothing to do with baseball.

Like the Jets, the Pirates blew a precious opportunity to get significantly better. They left chips on the table, settling for lesser value. And if Tabata becomes the next Cameron Drew, fans will look back at July 26, 2008 at one of the greatest lost opportunities in franchise history.

Yes. That's really the one place where this team has gone wrong the last 17 years. Advantage Pearlman.

PS: And to compare Nate McLouth and Lastings Milledge is ludicrous. McLouth is a proven Major Leaguer who, while far from perfect, will have a solid 10-year career. Milledge has now been discarded by two different organizations.

Now he's setting us up for the trilogy? Okay, but I'm going to wait until he actually writes it. I want to see what The Pearlman can pull out of his ass to make this argument, seeing as how he's talking about two completely different deals, and makes no mention of You Know Who.

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